Terminology Style Guide

This is a version of the style guide that Native Governance Center uses to guide our communications so we are respectful and consistent in talking about Native nations.

Why a Style Guide?

From Elements of Indigenous Style
  • “The goal of Indigenous style is to show respect for Indigenous ways of being in the world in the publishing process and on the page.”
  • “The process of decolonizing language surrounding Indigenous peoples is not finished; terms, names, and styles continue to evolve.”
  • “Indigenous style overrules other styles in cases of disagreement.”
  • “Indigenous style uses capitals where conventional style does not. It is a deliberate decision that redresses mainstream society’s history of regarding Indigenous peoples as having no legitimate national identities; governmental, social, spiritual, or religious institutions; or collective rights.”

This Style Guide is specific to our organization and is ever-evolving.

References to Racial, Ethnic, Cultural (and Political) Groups

  • DO capitalize the names of racial, ethnic, cultural (and for Native folks, political) identifiers:
    • Capitalize Black.
    • Capitalize Indigenous, Native, and American Indian.
    • Capitalize other racial and ethnic identifiers, such as Asian and Latinx.
  • DO capitalize Indigenous or Native when part of the phrase non-Native or non-Indigenous.
  • DO NOT capitalize the word white.
  • Use Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) rather than People of Color (POC) if referring to a group that includes Black and/or Indigenous folks.
  • Refer to individuals by their individual racial/ethnic/cultural/political identifier, rather than using BIPOC, whenever possible. Example, “Natalia is a Latinx small business owner,” rather than, “Natalia is a BIPOC small business owner.”

Our Work

  • Our organization:
    • Refer to our organization as Native Governance Center, NOT The Native Governance Center.
    • Refer to our organization as Native-led, rather than Native American-led. For example, Native Governance Center is a Native-led nonprofit organization.”
  • Key principles:
    • We say nation rebuilding instead of nation building to honor the fact that Native nations have always been sovereign and had their own forms of government prior to colonization.
    • Do not capitalize the phrase nation rebuilding. If using the phrase Native nation rebuilding, do capitalize the word Native in the phrase. [Note: do capitalize the word Nation if it appears as part of a proper noun, such as in the case of the Native Nation Rebuilders program.]
    • Do NOT capitalize sovereignty, self-determination, or self-governance. DO capitalize Treaty Right or Treaty Rights.
  • Our programming:
    • Refer to the Rebuilders program exactly as follows: the Rebuilders program or the Native Nation Rebuilders program. DO NOT pluralize the word nation here (a common error when writing out the program name).
    • Refer to both participants in and graduates of the Rebuilders program as Rebuilders or Native Nation Rebuilders.

The People and Nations We Serve

  • Native nations:
    • Refer to the nations we serve as Native nations. Use Tribal nations or Tribes in special circumstances, if necessary.
    • The term nation may also be used alone, once it’s clear that we’re talking about a Native nation. Example, “Deanna Standing Cloud (Red Lake Nation) is passionate about bringing people together. She strives to create ways for members of her nation to connect.”
    • DO NOT capitalize nation, unless it’s part of a specific nation’s name.
    • When referring to Native nations in our region, please see the list on our website. This list contains a mix of federally-recognized names and names we know that nations prefer.
    • When referring to Native nations outside of our region, use a nation’s federally recognized name if you’re unsure. You can access a list of federally-recognized Native nations here.
  • Other terminology related to Native nations and lands:
    • Capitalize the words Tribe and Tribal, regardless of whether they appear as part of a proper noun. Example: “The United States is home to 574 federally-recognized Tribes.” Or, “Pearl Walker-Swaney is actively working to protect her Tribal homelands.”
    • Relatedly, capitalize Tribal in the term Tribal council. When the term appears as part of a proper noun, capitalize both words (example: Red Lake Tribal Council).
    • Capitalize the term Indian Country.
    • DO NOT capitalize reservation, unless it is part of a specific reservation name or referring back to the name of a specific reservation. Example: “Wayne Ducheneaux II is from the Cheyenne River Reservation. When he was recently back home on the Reservation, he knocked down a wall and remediated some mold in his house.”
      • A note on the term reservation: A reservation is not the same thing as a Native nation. A reservation refers to a Native nation’s current land base as defined by the federal government. A Native nation is a sovereign political entity.
  • Refer to the people we serve as: Native people, Native, or Indigenous. Use American Indian or Indian when requested by a particular interview subject or when quoting another work.

Our Geographic Service Area

  • We refer to the three states in our region as South Dakota, North Dakota, and Mni Sota Makoce.
  • When referring to Native nations in our region, say “the 23 Native nations that share geography with Mni Sota Makoce, North Dakota, and South Dakota.” The “shares geography” language can also be used when talking about other groups of Native nations.

Using Our Native Languages and Place Names

  • Do not italicize words that appear in a Native language. We ultimately want to normalize using our languages; italicization can result in an othering effect.
  • When explaining the meaning of words in Native languages, put the Native language word first, followed by the English meaning in parentheses. Example: ogema (chief). Do not put the Native language word in parentheses.

Other Miscellaneous Terminology

Elements of Indigenous Style recommends capitalizing the following terms:

  • Creator
  • First Nations
  • Métis
  • Elder
  • Sundance
  • Sweat Lodge
  • Traditional Knowledge

Inappropriate Terminology

A note from Elements of Indigenous Style: “Although some terminology surrounding Indigenous peoples continues to evolve, some terminology is clearly always not right.”

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of problematic terminology. It serves as an example of the type of language we should avoid as an organization.

  • Do not use the former name of the Washington football team. (It’s a racial slur.)
  • Do not refer to Native people as the United States’ Native peoples or Native people of the United States. We don’t want to imply that Native people are in any way owned by the United States.
  • Do not use the word pipeline to refer to fundraising or projects in development.
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